28 Mar 2008 @ 7:48 AM 

As you can tell if you are a return visitor, I changed up the look of the site – primarily adding a third column and changing the color scheme –  and would love to have comments. Does the third column make it seem too busy? Overall impressions? And what’s more, a site logo is somewhere in the works, thanks to my great friend and resident creative genius, Curtis J. Morley. Stay tuned on that one.

Posted By: TJ
Last Edit: 28 Mar 2008 @ 07:49 AM

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Categories: Random thoughts
 25 Mar 2008 @ 9:17 PM 

If I told you that offering someone money to do something would actually demotivate that person to do the action, would you believe me? Probably not now, since it seems counter-intuitive, but you might after reading Edward L. Deci’s and Richard Flaste’s book, Why We Do What We Do. Deci argues that the prevalent systems for motivation in our society actually work to squelch genuine inherent curiosity. In other words, the systems put in place to get us to do things actually end up keeping us from wanting to do them naturally.

Think of little children. Infants need no prodding to pick up things, put them in their mouths, push them over, imitate words and actions, or do any of the other myriad things that are evidence of their drive to learn and discover. However, just a few years later, we start to see in more children a reluctance to engage, more of a willingness to sit back and be bored. Simple things such as playing piano and going to school pass from being exciting to being dreaded. It is all too easy to say, “Well, that happens to most kids, so it’s normal, isn’t it?” instead of stepping back and asking why it happens. Just because something is normal doesn’t necessarily make it healthy or desirable. What happens to our intrinsic motivation to learn and discover? Furthermore, in a society where we, in addition to our inborn natural motivation, have created all kinds of different motivational systems, both positive and negative, to provide a push in the direction of productivity, why do so many people in a free society (where any occupation is theoretically available to them) still hate their jobs and feel dissatisfied?

Deci began to study this question with some experiements involving students at Carnegie Mellon University. Subjects were asked to see how many configurations they could make from a block puzzle in a fixed period of time – half were paid, and half were volunteers. After finishing the session, both groups were left alone with the puzzle, magazines and other forms of distraction for 8 minutes while “the results were processed.” Deci found that, during this “processing” time where the subjects did not know they were being observed, the subjects who had been paid for playing with the block puzzles had a significiantly lower likelihood of continuing to play with the puzzle than those who had been doing it without being paid. This study and others conducted by Deci and colleagues show that once people receive a “carrot” to motivate them to do something, even something they may have a natural affinity for or interest in, the removal of that carrot will likely result in a diminished desire to engage in that activity. In the puzzles example, students who normally had an intrinsic interest in putting together puzzles as an enjoyable and challenging pastime lost interest, or at least refused to engage in the behavior, once the carrot was no longer offered. 

So what are the implications for a manager or small business owner? Since our economy runs on money and everyone needs it to live, pay rent, eat and so forth, can we really change the way we use it to motivate our employees? The book explores the impact of this concept on people, society and even the workplace in an effort to ask questions that will lead us to devising the proper role for external motivators. Obviously, we need to have a way of balancing supply and demand of products, so everyone is not fully free to choose their own occupation without regard to the future. We can expect to continue having to pay our employees for the foreseeable future. However, we can also take a look at our employees roles and total “compensation” packages a little differently, with money only being one factor. By giving people more autonomy in their position, and some economic, or at least strategic, “ownership” in the company, you might find that your return on investment, in terms of loyalty and productivity for the company, is higher than when money is the only real carrot. You might also take more care in selecting your employees and consider whether hiring someone with slightly less impressive credentials, but an evident affinity for your industry or the position, might not be a better choice as employee, especially if you are looking to fill a position long term.

You might also look at what negative motivators you are using with your employees. As Deci wrote, “[A]ny occurrence that undermines people’s feeling of autonomy–that leaves them feeling controlled–should decrease their intrinsic motivation … [so it is] necessary to determine what other events … beyond rewards, are likely to be percieved by people as controlling–as limiting their autonomy.” Threats and coercion act like money, providing short term motivation in the desired direction, but overall damaging the natural motivation of your employees. The degree of impact may be directly related to the level of control you wield through external means.

Deci later states that “People’s need for autonomy, their need to be a causal agent in managing themselves, provides the energy for integrating … a regulation.” There is a difference between achieving compliance and achieving buy-in with your corporate standards, strategy and rules. If the external motivator is strong enough (monetary incentives, threats, etc.) a manager can get employees to submit to the corporate ideals, even though they may be sincerely opposed to the plan or the manner in which it is being carried out. To be sure, some amount of social directing is necessary to help markets run more efficiently, as the supply of goods and services would undoubtedly be chaotic if everyone was paying attention only to what they wanted to do, instead of what the market was asking for. However, we can still learn lessons as managers.

When hiring, ask more questions about the potential hire’s interests in your industry, not just their qualificiations for the position. Hiring someone who genuinely cares about and is interested in what your company is doing will increase the likelihood that that employee will think about your business “off the clock” and be aware of industry developments that could be early signs of threats or opportunities for your company. You may also need to spend less time policing their efficiency and/or get a slight break on payroll, since you will essentially be paying someone to do many things that they are interested in doing anyway. In your ongoing relationship with that employee, you may find it easier to give them true stewardship in their job function based on their passion and competence in that area, which will lighten the load on yoru shoulders to deal with heavier matters in the administration of your venture.  

I would even dare agree with (and paraphrase) Deci when he wrote, “For a [company] to function effectively, its individual [employees] must, to some extent, adopt the [company]’s values and mores.” This is a delicate process. First, the motivation and the individual’s personal values have to merge together. This is a difficult prospect when positive reinforcements are forcing unnatural behavior (going all day to a job one hates), and a disaster with negative motivation (keeping employees present and productive primarily through threats and coercion). Second, the more the values of the management philosophy and subject matter of the industry are dissimilar to those of the employee, the more difficult this values integration process will be.

Well, this review is already quite a bit longer than I intended it to be and yet doesn’t even begin to touch on the depth of this book. Reading it was an extraordinarily thought-provoking experience. Though some readers will still find that this book has a relatively academic feel, I thought the authors did a great job of striking the balance between giving a sampling of the deep academic, and at times philosophic, thought supporting their work and making it accessible to the every-day practitioner (small-business owner, manager, etc.). It is definitely worth reading for anyone interested in trying to gain true efficiency from themselves and their employees.      

Posted By: TJ
Last Edit: 28 Mar 2008 @ 07:44 AM

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 25 Mar 2008 @ 1:30 PM 

Just a short follow up to the email post of a couple of days ago. I found a site that has a short walkthrough on setting up other email accounts to run through Google. Rather than trying to put one together myself, I thought I’d just point you to that post. It’s on a site called googletutor and can be found here. One thing that I forgot to mention that does take some getting used to is that GMail is apparently incompatible with folders. I generally like to tuck things away and have a clean inbox, but Google’s approach seems to be more “Google”-ish, letting you search through your email by keyword instead of in folders.  I guess that is a very “Google” way of thinking about email folder organization!

Posted By: TJ
Last Edit: 25 Mar 2008 @ 01:32 PM

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 21 Mar 2008 @ 11:15 AM 

OK, so my last post was a little long. In the interest of mixing it up and blogging more often, I decided to post today on something a little lighter. Making your email communication more simple and effective.

Life is complex and multi-faceted. Often, so is your email situation. As an entrepreneur, you may have a number of email accounts you need to keep track of. One for your primary communication, another for correspondence from your company website or for other ventures you are involved with, one just for orders, and so forth. Many colleges are now offering lifetime email to their alumni to help them keep track of each other.

In addition, to more easily thwart spam problems that can arise, I recently followed the advice of a friend to create separate email addresses for areas where they might be posted on the internet and risk attracting the attention of spammers. I have done this with Linked In, for example, as well as a specific address for my resume. I also create separate email addresses for church and community roles. This way, if I ever get a bad spam problem on any one address, I can just create a new address to circulate to that limited group of people (minus whoever got me on the spam lists!!) and kill the old address. The problem is the time and frustration involved in checking all of the different accounts.

Google recently made my life simpler in this regard. I don’t mean to over-favor Google, and I am sure that there are other quality competitive products out there, but I have really been impressed with Google’s GMail. I have had a gmail account and address for some time. Then, I downloaded Google Talk to chat with a couple of friends that also use it. Now, I have GMail pop my email from three non-GMail accounts into my GMail interface. It is very easy to set up, all you need is the username and password from your other email accounts. With Google Talk running, I also get an instant update when I receive a new email.  I have also set it up so that it labels each email with the account it came in on (i.e. a personal account from my blog domain), and when I reply, the reply goes out from the account it was sent to, not my GMail account. It also means that all of my accounts can have access to a single address book. 

The other nice thing about using GMail this way is that you can check it anywhere you have an internet connection, even with a mobile phone. Previously, I had been using Thunderbird for my non-work emails and Outlook for work emails. I had been using a web client provided by my hosting service to check emails when I was away from the computer with my Thunderbird and Outlook clients. However, I consistently had problems with the IMAP connection with Thundebird and the web clients just weren’t as user-friendly as GMail is, especially when I had to log into and out of each one. Now, it’s all in one place and I get a notification when new email comes in. I still use Outlook for my primary work-related emails.

Anyway, just a quick tip that some of you will hopefully find useful.

Posted By: TJ
Last Edit: 21 Mar 2008 @ 11:15 AM

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 19 Mar 2008 @ 10:11 PM 

When I checked out my Google Analytics page recently, I discovered that someone had found their way to the site by means of the following search: “explain how a small business owner might apply critical thinking skills to a non-legal problem.” I have no idea what particular non-legal problem that reader was wrestling with. Frankly, I was pretty amazed by the number of words that Google search contained! That reader probably didn’t find what they were looking for here (yet!), and probably won’t find their way back. However, it gives me an interesting subject on which to opine for a couple of lines, so here we go.

Now, let’s start off on the right foot. The word critic has been defined as: “one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique” and comes from the Latin criticus, or Greek kritikos, meaning “able to discern or judge.” The first step in successfully implementing critical thought in your small business is learning to think critically about it. It is important here not to fall into the trap of thinking of criticism as principally negative – it is never helpful or productive to think negatively about your business, hence the definition given above. The key is reasoning, discernment and making correct judgments – those are all positive things and best done in a positive mindset.

In a previous post, I summarized a presentation I gave to some law students at BYU. One piece of advice I gave them was that a Juris Doctor degree is very versatile because in addition to the valuable subject matter, law students more importantly learn to think critically about actions and transactions. In first year law classes this takes the shape of learning to interpret the law from court decisions. Ultimately, people expect lawyers to be able to anticipate what the likely outcome will be of a dispute under the law and given their particular circumstances. To begin to do this, law students have to learn to identify the key principles in a published legal decision so that, when faced with a similar but different fact scenario, they can reliably determine how the judge is likely to apply the law. A deep familiarity with the published text of the law is helpful, but unless a lawyer has a strong ability to think critically about that text and relate it to the facts, he or she is not going to be able to discern what the outcome of the case should be, which is the lawyer’s role.

I think a neat little summary for effective critical thinking is the following: think broadly, think deeply, but don’t forget to act. 

Think broadly 

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of thinking critically about a problem, legal or non-legal, is being aware of one’s surroundings, or thinking broadly. Much like players on a sports team need to be aware of the location and actions of their fellow players, lawyers and managers need to be sure to actively account for peripheral issues when thinking about a challenge their business is facing. A common temptation for law students, especially in this age of digital search tools, is to go right to the sought-after word or reference in a decision, read the text there, and base their assumptions on that excerpt. The danger in this approach is that, although it saves time and will often give you some reliable direction, there are often many other factors that may affect the importance or interpretation of that principle in the final decision.

By the same token, successful managers and critical thinkers keep their eyes open for peripheral issues that may affect the outcome of what they are trying to achieve, even though the relationship between the two may not be readily apparent at the outset. Many times, significant opportunities and threats for an organization lurk in this periphery. The tech giants have certainly shown that they know how to do this as they seem to have expanded in every direction along the value chain. Thomas Friedman, in The World is Flat, describes how UPS has thought broadly about its business opportunities and has gotten involved much more deeply in its clients’ operations than merely delivering packages. It has developed facilities where it repairs electronics; stores, selects and ships warehoused goods; and operates branded delivery trucks for its clients. Even when successful businesses do not engage in activities from the periphery of their industry, their broad perspectives make them acutely aware of what is going on around them and how they will be affected.

So, how can you widen your perspective? Look through trade magazines from related industries (start with your suppliers, customers and competitors) keeping an eye out for synergies and conflicts. Join a trade association for your industry. Go out for lunch for a change, and take someone with you, such as your primary outside lawyer, accountant, business consultant, or a client or supplier. For the price of a meal and with a few appropriately inquisitive questions, you can often get valuable insights into what issues are on the minds of others in your field (for more on this, check out this post).

Critical thinking does not preclude the ability to act on on intangible evidence, such as a “gut feeling” about a decision. Such intuitive impulses may be instinctual or may in fact be the result of alot of “behind the scenes” analysis your subconscious has conducted based on your perceptions. In fact, such intangibles are very valuable and such innate skills are often possessed by great managers. However, good critical thinkers know how to put that intuition in its proper perspective, consider it in light of the other facts they have gathered and make a reasoned decision – resisting the temptation to simply always follow one’s gut feeling because it is easier. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of effective critical thought is the ability to properly gauge the importance and relevance of each factor affecting a decision.

Think deeply

Chess, at least with the rules one typically plays with in the US and Western Europe, has been around since the 1500s, and some others have been around much longer. One reason this pastime is so persistent is that it helps teach and train the mind in thinking deeply. In chess, success depends on much more than your familiarity with the rules of the game and the ability to perceive what your opponents are doing with their current actions. Players will very quickly and consistently end up in check and mate if they only focus on the present state of the game. The essence of chess is to play the game out in your mind far in advance, looking for trends in your opponent’s movements that will give you the chance to think many moves ahead, which is the key to winning. Chess master Garry Kasparov is reported to have said that chess champions generally think 5 or more moves ahead in the game, and are capable of much deeper thought than that.

Thinking deeply about business problems should be approached in much the same way. We ought to pause just a second before making decisions in our business relationships. Leaning on the wider perspective you have developed by thinking broadly, think through your action. How will your clients perceive this action? Your suppliers and competitors? How are they likely to react? What impact will their reaction have on you, your industry, or other you do business with? You also need to look at such questions over the short, medium and long term. What will be the short vs. long term effects of your decision? If the short term is positive, but the long term potentially negative, are there additional actions you can take to minimize the negative impact so that you can preserve the benefit you get in the short term?

This kind of thought, practiced regularly, leads to the development of a master plan for your small business. It will become less of a “I wonder what will happen today” and more of a “I’m on schedule to realize my goals and desires” type of venture. Of course, you cannot predict every twist and turn in the development of your business, but thinking deeply about it and charting its course out several steps ahead gives you a map to follow. Much as a ship on the sea can be blown off course by strong winds and find its way again with the aid of a map and navigational tools, you will be better prepared to re-orient your business processes in the facing of a changing, industry, economy or regulatory environment if you have thought through a path to where you want to go. On a smaller scale, you will also be able to more easily handle more limited issues, such as simple conversations that could become confrontations, if you think through the conversation beforehand for a few minutes, try to anticipate the reaction of the other person, and plan your questions and comments accordingly. Much of the most painful regret felt in this world could have certainly have been avoided if one or more of the persons involved would have thought things through more thoroughly.

Don’t forget to act 

But won’t all this thought and analysis paralyze my business decision making? Aren’t complicated decision-making processes one of the factors that tend to slow down big organizations and make them less nimble? And won’t that tend to keep an enterprise from being able to effectively seize the advantage of being a first-mover in an industry? These are all valid concerns, and my final thought on critical thinking is to remember that it is but one part of your business process. As too much of any good thing can be unhealthy when it precludes you from taking part in other good things, it is often very easy to fall in the trap of over-analyzing issues. This over-concentration leads to paralysis and indecision. As with all parts of our lives, we have to learn to find the approprate balance for our organizations between analysis and action.

The first key is to remember that we generally cannot and will not uncover all relevant factors to our business decisions. This is a limitation in such wonderful and time-tested concepts as the scientific method. It is impossible for us to anticipate or perceive all relevant factors, and the law of diminishing returns teaches us that, at any rate, after a certain point it becomes less worthwhile to continue looking for hidden factors and risks. So, we have to develop a sense of when we have sufficiently “done our homework” so that we can feel confident that we are getting the big picture. Experience will help you develop a sense for this, as a function of your industry, your company’s culture and your own skill set. You may also continue your analysis while taking primary steps in the direction you think is right to test the waters.

Another reason to remember to act is that things can change, and quickly, especially with today’s technology and global economy. If you try to analyze until you are certain you have examined every possible new development, you may find yourself mapping sand dunes in the desert, with the landscape constantly shifting as the wind blows. In such situations, you may need to select the issues you think are most important, take some probing steps to test your initial reactions, or a combination of these or some other actions and then just roll with the punches that still com through as best you can. What is certain is that you will nonetheless be better off than if you had not made a full effort to analyze the situation in the first place. By the same token, being human, we can also misperceive threats and opportunities. Some of our fears or envisioned roadblocks may never materialize.

Mostly, acting engenders energy, passion and impetus which can often help compensate in overcoming inevitable or unforeseeable obstacles. With the combination of broad perspective and deep analysis, and balancing planning with the need to act, you will soon find greater comfort in your decisions and greater success in your ventures.

Posted By: TJ
Last Edit: 19 Mar 2008 @ 10:13 PM

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 01 Mar 2008 @ 11:49 PM 

You may have heard the remark on occasion, “Oh I would love to have been a fly on the wall in that room.” Well, back in my college days I spent some time considering that idea, and ended up writing the following poem about it. I ran across it the other day while going through some old papers in the basement and thought I’d put it up here. Hope you enjoy it.

Ode to a Fly

Secrets told by little girls

Dreams of love and gifted pearls

Men combine and plans create

Designs to rule, their passions hate


The discoveries that shape our lives

Forgotten pacts of old

The artist creates his masterpiece

An embrace two lovers hold


These things take place behind closed doors

No secrets to reveal

Yet watchful eyes these acts do see

And secrets quietly steal


Oh, omniscient eyes, pervading all

How dearly I long to learn

The wonders of your vigilance

The truths you can discern


Absolutely inconspicuous

Such advantage do you know

The world so carelessly to view

Yet never yourself to show


Yet as I look into those eyes

There is something more I see

A frustration I can’t comprehend

 A longing to be free


I ask the eyes to please explain

Whence comes their agony

My lot, dear friend, the eyes reply

Is one of great irony


The world is mine to view, ‘tis true

And no wall can block my sight

But for all the ways I know to win

I must always sit out the fight


The world, with the knowledge I possess

Would know its ills no more

The wisdom is mine, but not to share

I am rich, but I am also poor


I left the eyes in flurried though

As my envy lost its sting

And a thought, as though from trumpets blast

Started in my ears to ring


‘Tis better to live with ignorance

And change that which I might

Than the answer for all wrongs to know

And hold no power to make it right.

Posted By: TJ
Last Edit: 03 Mar 2008 @ 11:40 AM

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